Levels of violence rose slightly in Iraq last week, although conditions have generally been quiet so far in 2011 and the number of weekly security incidents has not yet exceeded 40. The majority of violence is currently taking place in Baghdad and Mosul, although last week saw several attacks in the provinces of Anbar and Salah ad-Din.
The northern city of Kirkuk has also seen a spate of incidents over the past few days. After several weeks of relative quiet, two individuals were abducted on 7 February. The body of one was found the following day, while the second was found abandoned and injured. On 9 February three vehicles laden with explosives detonated in the city, close a filling station, a municipal office and the provincial headquarters of the Kurdish Asayish security forces. At least six people were killed and 75 injured in the near-simultaneous blasts. Further north, Kurdistan remains stable, although supporters of opposition movements such as the Gorran party may organise demonstrations against the regional government. They remain critical of unemployment, nepotism and a poor record of political freedoms in the region and are likely to be spurred on by demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt. However, AKE considers it unlikely that this will lead to major unrest, and it should not be regarded as any major source of alarm for foreign companies working in the region.
Violence remains most concentrated in the centre of the country, with a spate of bombings in Baghdad last week, and several attacks in western Anbar province and throughout Salah ad-Din province. On 5 February a bomb near the revered Askari shrine in Samarra injuring nine people, including two Iranians and two Pakistanis. This highlights both the fact that the extensive security measures in place around the mosque are not exhaustive, but that the perception of the security situation in the country has improved significantly to the extent that religious travellers are increasingly willing to travel from areas around the world. The holy Shi’ah Askari mosque is notable because its partial destruction in a bomb blast in 2006 helped catalyse some of the worst of the country’s sectarian violence. In Diyala province on 4 February three militants were arrested carrying intimidating literature which they were distributing amongst residents of central Ba’qubah. Several individuals suspected of involvement in the manufacture of explosives were also arrested in operations in the city on the same day. It is suspected that most of the detainees are affiliated with the al-Qaeda inspired Islamic State of Iraq. What is important from a security perspective is that they were arrested following tip-offs from local families. This signifies growing co-operation between Diyala residents and the authorities, after years of mistrust between the two. A network of informers will likely be one of the strongest forces against militancy and criminality in Iraq once the US military withdraws from the country.
A series of arrests were made around Basrah city over the past week. Most of those detained were involved in criminality, although at least one explosive device was also defused during the police operations. Terrorists evidently still have a presence in the southern region and while conditions have been quieter than normal over recent weeks personnel should not become complacent. Otherwise, around 1,500 people protested against poor services in Basrah city on 6 February. Unrest may become a more prominent issue in Iraq over the coming months, particularly with an ongoing lack in services, jobs and acceptable standards of living. Further analysis on this subject is available here.
John Drake is a senior risk consultant with AKE Group, a British private security firm working in Iraq from before 2003. Further details on the company can be found at www.akegroup.com/iraq
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